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Snow Owl July, 2003

      The photographs and information found in this article comes from the book: Sacred Legacy Edward S. Curtis and The North American Indian. The photographs and some quotes are by Edward Curtis; the book was edited by Christopher Cardozo witth the foreword by N. Scott Momaday. They may be some excerpts of essays from Christopher Cardozo and Joseph D. Horse Capture as well, and a perhaps a bit of the Afterword by Anne Makepeace. The book was published by Simon and Schuster. Snow Owl  

Edward S. Curtis Self Photo 1899


Its such a big dream, I cant see it all.    

Chief Red Hawk Sioux - 1906   
Sadly, Curtiss written ethnographic record of Native Americans has been overlooked in the recent assessments o his contributions, primarily undertaken by photographic historians rather than by anthropologists. This is unfortunate because his writing contains a wealth of information about the tribes he visited and often provides insights that are not available elsewhere. Curtis was particularly adept at eliciting highly personal information that individuals would not share with other outsiders. For example, Curtis describes one of Red Hawks visions and the significance those visions held for the great Oglala leader.  

Red Hawk fasted twice. The second time a voice said, Look at your village! He saw four women going around the village with their hair on top of their heads, and their legs aflame. Following them as a naked man, mourning and singing the death song. A few days later came news that of five who had gone against the enemy, four had been killed: one return alive, and followed the four mourning wives around the camp singing the death song. Still later they killed a Cheyenne and an Apsaroke scout, and the two heads were brought into camp. Edward S. Curtis  

Slow Bull Oglala Sioux circa 1907 

Bears Belly Arikara circa 1908 

Chief Joseph Nez Pearce circa 1903   

As Chief Joseph attempted to reach Canada , where his tribe would find asylum from reservation life, he was finally and decisively defeated just miles short of the border. At the end of the ordeal, he spoke these famous words:

I am tired of fighting. Our chiefs are killed. Looking Glass is dead. Toohulusote is dead. The old men are all dead. It is the young men who say yes or no. Ollokot who led the young men is dead. It is cold and we have no blankets. The little children are freezing to death. My people, some of t hem have run away to the hills and have no blankets, no food; no one knows where they are-perhaps freezing to death. I want to have time to look for my children and see how many of them I can find. Maybe I shall find them among the dead. Hear me my chiefs. I am tired. My heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands, I shall fight no more forever. Chief Joseph
Chief Joseph was one of the most well-known Indian figures of the late 1800s and early 1900s, and he and Curtis became close friends in 1903, a year before the Indians death. While on a speaking trip to plead for the return of his peoples land in Oregon , the Nez Perce Chief traveled to Curtiss Seattle studio to have his portrait taken. Chief Joseph was a large man who stood more than six feet two inches and had a strong and dignified manner. In a series of portraits that includes the image that is recognized as one of Curtiss most successful, the photographer captured the strength, intelligence, and humanity of the legendary Indian leader. Curtiss sensitive and penetrating depiction of Chief Joseph becomes even more powerful with the knowledge of the tragic story of Joseph and the Nez Perce people.

Mosa Mohave circa 1903

What is Life? 
It is the flash of a firefly in the night.
It is the breath of the buffalo in the winter time.
It is the little shadow which runs across the grass
And loses itself in the Sunset. - Crowfoots last words.

For Strength and Vision Sun Dance Apsaroke circa 1908

Plains Indians undertook the Sun Dance both for the strength of the community and, not unlike the vision quest, for fulfillment of their personal vows.

Participation in the dance was entirely voluntary, a mental vow to worship the Mystery in this manner being expressed by a man ardently desiring the recovery of a sick relative; or surrounded by an enemy with escape apparently impossible; or, it might be, dying of hungersince some inscrutable power had swept all game from forest and prairie. Others joined in the ceremony in the hope and firm belief that the Mystery would grant them successes against the enemy and consequent eminence at home. Edward S. Curtis

One of the most dramatic aspects of the Sun Dance involved the self-torture of young braves, beginning at sunup and lasting till sundown. In the center of the tribal circle, a mystery tree was secured in the ground. The Indian brave was brought out of confinement and the medicine man prepared him for the test of strength.
Incisions are made on each breast, the skin loosened between the parallel slits and bone skewers slipped under the strips of skin. Another set of cuts is made at the shoulder blades and another pair of skewers inserted. The young man is now led to the mystery tree pole as blood streams down from the cuts and placed to face the sun. Long thongs have been attached to the willowy tip of the pole and the lower ends now fastened to the breast skewers. From the ones on his back, the heavy buffalo skull is suspended. Edward S. Curtis
The ceremony was accompanied by drumming, chanting, and signing. The the circle was occupied by dancers whose presence brought the singing to a crescendo.

The young brave is moving his legs in time to the music, his body arched back in agonizing pain as the pole is bowed and the skull jerks up and down, the full strain centered on the stretched skin and flesh of breast and back.
Does the youth endure the torture, the physical pain and twisting of his inner pressures, until the sun has crossed over the heavens and sunk below the burning prairie? Or has the skin broken loose or the subject fainted in ignominy? That is the test. It is the supreme bending of fates to the will of man or the domination of the gods. Either a new warrior has been made or a lesser man found wanting. It is a moving spectacle, a never-to-be-forgotten experience. Edward S. Curtis

Christopher Cardozo with Darren Quintenz

Akatsim Atsissi (Whistle Smoke)  
Piegan circa 1928

Below Are The Links To The Other Edward Curtis Pages:

Below are Links to Native American History Pages
[ Native American History Contents Page ] [ Plains Indian Headdresses ]
[ Plains Indian Shields ] [ Boarding Schools ] [ Boy Scouts and Indians ]
[ Where Have All the Flowers Gone? ] [ The Man on the 20 Dollar Bill ]
[ Native American Vietnam Vets ] [ How the Adirondacks Were Lost ]
[ Custer's Last Stand-Personal Accounts ] [ CodeTalkers-WindSpeakers ]
[ Festival of Words Honors Code Talker Charles Chibitty ]
[ Behold the Ignorant Savage-Part 1 ] [ Behold the Ignorant Savage-Part 2 ]
[ Edward Curtis-Native American Indian-Sacred Legacy-Pg 1 ]
[ George Catlin-Portraits of the Past-Pg1 ] [ Native American Women ]
[ Richard A. Throssel

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